St Edward’s University
Architect: Alejandro Aravena
Associate architect: Cotera + Reed
Project architects: Ricardo Torrejón, Adam Pyrek
Project team: Victor Oddo, Rebecca Emmons, Tiffani Erdmanczyk, Travis Hughbanks, Leyla Shams, Joyce Chen, Deb Ebersole
Design | St Edward’s University
The brick-walled exterior of the student complex masks the atmospheric courtyard of this inward dealing building. In contrast to its popularity, the metropolis is no longer especially eye-catching. Skyline is dominated by unpleasant, company high-rises and bland plazas. The Texan metropolis is home to St Edward’s University, an oasis of campus close to South Congress, a rapidly gentrifying place that was tough 15 years ago. St Edward’s, which has been around since 1885, has adapted to this situation and removed itself from its neighbours.
Alejandro Aravena’s new residential complex for the college works in this inward-facing tradition. Aravena is the poster boy of the new generation of Chilean architects, with high-profile commissions abroad and a professorship at Harvard to exhibit it. Aravena received the undertaking for the 300-bed pupil dorm in 2006 and has now finished what, from afar, looks like an aggressively stoic building, with narrow, floor-to-ceiling slit windows reminiscent of a mediaeval fortress.
Only by way of getting close and seeing the inner courtroom shaped by using the two constructions does the architect’s intention become clear. Aravena has balanced the faceted, brick exterior with a polished interior. According to Mike Peterson, director of Physical Plant at St Edward’s, the effect is ‘jewel-like’, however, I see it greater like a crystal rock or geode. From the outside, it is harsh and roughly textured, while the inside is bright, clean, and shimmering. Aravena skillfully exploits this impact so that being inside the constructions is a lot extra atmospheric experience than seeing them from outside.
“From certain angles, visitors can see into the slim passageway that runs between the buildings and also sees the exceptional red glazing panels that line the indoor court”.
Once in the courtyard, the complication is revealed. Signs and glazing talk the ground-floor fitness and counselling centres, two catering amenities (a dining corridor and a smaller café), places of work, and on the higher levels, the dwelling halls. This visibility is one of the project’s foremost successes. Despite its external opacity, inside – both in the courtyard and constructions – the ride is one of views and openness. Aravena continues the dorm rooms on the perimeter, with circulation and public spaces on the inside, facing the courtyard, so students in common areas can see their friends from above and vice versa.
Practically, this decision used to be informed by way of a wish to set up a feeling of community. It works admirably, however, additionally achieves certain poetry. The glazing transmits sparkling, colourful light, making the house tons more animated than the different dorms on the campus. “When my tour started early in the morning, there were few college students. Later, however, when extra filtered through the space, I observed that their things to do generated an interesting choreography”, – says the architects.
Since many of the home windows create slit-like apertures across and down into the courtyard, you get a sense of movement: a pupil crossing a window here, rising from a seat there. Such actions create visible channels and flow across the building, punctuating key view corridors and activating both horizontal and vertical pathways.
These grand gestures are each supported and hindered via detail and specification decisions that, surely, can be attributed to the design-build manner and cost-cutting. The project fee was around £18 million, most of which, Aravena notes, went toward mechanical systems, despite the building’s green credentials (passive ventilation, heat-gain mitigation, etc).
From the outside, the use of brickworks is well. With two principal types of brickwork – smooth, seamless masonry and rough, jagged bricks – Aravena achieves an easy yet powerful effect. The result is a retort to the blockiness of related buildings and to the website stipulations (extensive external glazing would have been a terrible desire for Austin’s relentless sun). Where the constructions separate to form a corridor, and where an area is shorn off right here or a corner there, the brickwork is rough, as although the partitions had been torn or ripped apart. It’s an easy device, however one that works correctly – in particular when the sun creates shadows over surfaces that would otherwise be oppressively planar.
Sustainability | St Edward’s University
The material strategy dramatises Aravena’s elegant reformulation of the relationship between exterior and interior. The ‘interior’ of this challenge is created through the sheltering spatial arrangement of the blocks.
The courtyard and the space between structures are as vital as the rooms themselves and decide the lifestyles of the building. The composition is at its most successful in the moments when it’s broken apart to disclose this active inner realm.
Other details are much less successful. The red glazing, one of the project’s extra conspicuous plan choices, gives the construction an air of dated disco seediness. According to Aravena, the desire for coloration came from the client, who wanted it to shape the crimson roofs that appear across the campus. Aravena inverts this material palette, the use of the yellowish brick of adjacent constructions externally and confining the crimson to the courtyard.
Inside, the structure is exceptionally generic, although key accents bring it up. Polished concrete flooring and exposed structural contributors (the constructing elements of an easy concrete frame with exposed, floor-high trusses at the cantilevered higher levels) feel like a greater white-cube gallery than an educational institution. Communal areas pop up in stunning places, for instance in pockets on one aspect of a single-loaded corridor.
This sensitivity to communal behaviour makes the venture a success. By emphasising motion and continuously exposing the exercise of campus existence through apertures and circulation, Aravena has (without needless preciousness) created a community for the students. And because the construction sits on a most important pedestrian thoroughfare, is extraordinarily small (just four stories), and because the materials replicate the persona of the rest of the campus, he has executed so barring didactic weight or prescriptive arrogance. Dorm existence can be a less than nice one, however, Aravena has shown that it can also be full of community, exercise, and beauty.